Roger D. Cottrell; Teresa M. Cottrell Plaintiffs - Appellants
American Family Mutual Insurance Company, S.I. Defendant-Appellee
Submitted: January 16, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - Hannibal
SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
Cottrell appeals the district court's grant of summary
judgment in favor of American Family Mutual Insurance Co.,
S.I., ("American Family") determining that American
Family did not owe uninsured motorist coverage to Cottrell
after he was involved in a car crash with Mason Baumgarte.
The district court concluded that Baumgarte's actions
were the sole proximate cause of the accident. Cottrell
asserts that the district court erred. He argues that
disputed issues of material fact made summary judgment
inappropriate. He contends that an unidentified third party
on the road at the time of the crash was a proximate cause of
the accident. If Cottrell is correct, his claim against
American Family for benefits under the uninsured motorist
coverage provision of his policy should proceed. In its
summary judgment order, the district court determined that
Baumgarte was both the actual and proximate cause of the
accident, regardless of the third car's action. We
reverse because material facts remain disputed as to
causation, making summary judgment inappropriate.
cars traveling on a divided highway met at an intersection of
the highway and an access road. Two of them collided. The
highway had two northbound lanes divided by a median from two
southbound lanes. An access road intersected with the highway
and cut straight across at a perpendicular angle to the main
highway traffic. Cottrell was northbound, driving at least
the speed limit-65 miles-per-hour-but perhaps as fast as 75
miles-per-hour. As Cottrell approached the access road
crossing, Baumgarte was stopped on the access road on
Cottrell's right-hand side preparing to cross the
highway. Baumgarte intended to cross over the two northbound
lanes on the access road, onto the median, and then enter
southbound traffic. Facing Baumgarte on the access road,
stopped in the median, was a brown car apparently preparing
to enter northbound traffic.
saw the driver of the brown car wave to him in a manner that
Baumgarte interpreted as permission to cross the highway
before the brown car driver would complete his turn into
northbound traffic. Baumgarte also saw Cottrell approaching
the intersection. Baumgarte believed he "had enough
distance to where [Cottrell] wouldn't have been a
problem" and that he "could have got across [the
northbound lanes] safely." Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. for
Summ. J., Ex. A, Baumgarte Dep. at 20, Cottrell v. Am.
Family Mut. Ins. Co., S.I., No. 2:17-cv-00012 (E.D. Mo.
Aug. 28, 2017); ECF No. 29-1. After double-checking traffic,
Baumgarte began across the northbound lanes towards the
median. As he crossed the highway, the brown car pulled into
the left northbound lane, momentarily blocking
Baumgarte's passage, causing Baumgarte to either slow
down or completely stop-right in front of Cottrell. Cottrell
T-boned Baumgarte. The brown car drove away in the northbound
lane, and its driver remains unidentified.
interviewed about the accident, Cottrell stated that he saw
Baumgarte before he pulled out into the intersection. In
response to a question about whether he could "slam on
[the] brakes, swerve, [or] do anything like that" to
avoid the collision after Baumgarte pulled onto the highway,
Cottrell said "[t]here was no time." Mot. for Summ.
J., Ex. C at 590-91, Cottrell v. Am. Family Mut. Ins.
Co., S.I., No. 2:17-cv-00012 (E.D. Mo. July 28, 2017),
ECF No. 21-3. Another driver, Silvia Louise Rousan-Elliott,
saw the accident. When interviewed by police at the scene,
Rousan-Elliott said that the brown car "led to the
collision." Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J., Ex.
E, Rousan-Elliott Dep. at 10, Cottrell v. Am. Family Mut.
Ins. Co., S.I., No. 2:17-cv-00012 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 28,
2017), ECF No. 29-6.
filed a claim with American Family seeking compensatory
damages for bodily injury under his policy's uninsured
motorist provision. American Family denied the claim after
Baumgarte's insurance assessed Baumgarte 100 percent of
the liability for the accident and agreed to pay
Cottrell's property damage. This lawsuit followed.
summary judgment decision, the district court noted
Cottrell's theory for recovery for an uninsured motorist
incident is contractual but depends upon the tort liability
principle of proximate cause. Under Missouri law, courts, not
juries determine proximate cause in the absence of a material
fact dispute. See Townsend v. E. Chem. Waste Sys.,
234 S.W.3d 452, 466 (Mo.Ct.App. 2007). Finding no genuine
issues of material fact, the district court, relying on
Horton v. Swift & Co., 415 S.W.2d 801 (Mo.
1967), determined that Baumgarte proximately caused the
accident by entering the intersection in front of Cottrell.
The district court concluded that Baumgarte lacked time to
safely cross the highway ahead of Cottrell. Because the court
concluded Baumgarte was the actual and proximate cause of the
accident, Cottrell's assertion that the brown car had a
role in the collision failed. Consequently, his claim for
uninsured motorist coverage from American Family also failed.
Cottrell now appeals.
review a district court's grant of summary judgment de
novo. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031,
1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). "Summary judgment is
proper 'if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure
materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'"
Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2)). We view facts
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and we
make no determinations of credibility; nor do we weigh the
evidence or draw inferences, as those functions belong to the
jury. Id. The question before us is whether the
record, when viewed in the light most favorable to Cottrell,
shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact
and that American Family is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2); Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
determine materiality of facts based on the substantive law
governing an underlying claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Facts that, if altered,
affect the outcome of a lawsuit under applicable substantive
law, are material. Id. A material fact dispute is
"genuine" if each party has supplied some evidence
that is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict
for the nonmoving ...